There is an eerie rumble in the Presidency. But it is not new. The Nigerian seat of power has a rich history of animation and suspense. Forget the obvious denial by spin doctors of the Rocky abode. They will spin. They will doctor the facts. That, again, is not new. Things are no longer at ease inside the Rock. These conflicts have a history. Since the 4th Republic in 1999, we have had theatrics and histrionics from the heavily amoured Villa Buhari.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, gleefully washed their sullied linens in the marketplace. They were not ashamed to fight. They were not ashamed to settle, with Obasanjo strangely supporting Atiku to upstage Buhari at the polls many years later. Then came Umaru Yar’adua, the meek one. He had another meek lamb, Goodluck Jonathan, as deputy. Yet, between their acclaimed meekness and humility was a gulf of toxic mistrust. The one never trusted the other. And they fought, not openly with the brashness of the Obasanjo-Atiku ding-dong. Theirs was an even deadlier war of attrition, oiled by their obvious leadership incompetence and the vaulting ambitions of their spouses who seized the stage and pulled the lever of power.
The Jonathan-Namadi Sambo era was less dramatic, not because they both chose to respect the rectilinear boundaries of their offices but more because they both did not even understand the nuts-and-bolts of their offices. So, they wobbled and fumbled through the maze of governance.
President Muhammadu Buhari blazed into office as a refurbished democrat. He was so sold to the electorate. Nigerians believed the ‘Change’ mantra. Plus, Buhari’s chances were boosted by the ineffectiveness of the Jonathan-Sambo ticket. It was a case of anything but Jonathan. Buhari thus became the ‘anything’. Fortuitous! And he was damn good as a democrat in his early days. Shackled by headwinds of ill-health and unpreparedness for the challenges of his office, Buhari tried to evince the traits of a democrat, the type not demonstrated by his predecessors. He willingly transmitted power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo through the National Assembly while on vacation. He did it twice.
In one instance, he stay away for very long on account of ill-health. Many expected him to just resign as it was conjectured he would no longer function effectively in that office. He didn’t resign. In his place, Osinbajo acted, making changes and breathing life into a comatose economy. Osinbajo provided a breath of fresh air. But this appears his undoing. In life, never run faster than your master. Osinbajo ran faster than Buhari to the chagrin of the Presidency cabal.
And yes, there is a cabal in the Presidency. Every organisation or association, private and public, has a cabal including the White House; including the top five most capitalized companies in the world. So, don’t believe the ‘fake news’ from government that there is no cabal anywhere inside Aso Rock. There is, QED. There is nothing wrong with having a cabal in any workplace. After all, it takes just a few to get the job done. It gets wrong if the cabal is working for the good of a few and not for the common good. But that’s not my worry. My worry here is the manner some Nigerians are attacking Buhari for not handing over to Osinbajo while on his two-week ‘private visit’ to London.
Even more worrisome is that some lawyers who should know have joined in spreading the noxious stench of illogic that a Buhari on a private visit to anywhere is akin to Buhari on vacation or one unable to discharge the functions of his office. We must not mix up things based on emotive blurt and primeval political promptings.
For the sake of clarity, Section 145 of the 1999 constitution (with the first, second and third alterations) states: “Whenever the President is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to that effect, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice-President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President.”
Note the nuggets of the constitution (our Grundnorm): “vacation” and “unable to discharge the functions of his office” which may be due to ill-health, admission of incapacitation or incompetence or any other reason that makes it impossible for the president to continue in office. It is on the basis of these that Buhari is under compulsion to transmit power to Osinbajo. But the President is not on vacation, he is on a private visit. He has not said or shown he is “unable to discharge the functions of his office”. If anything, Buhari is getting fitter by the day. Our once sickly President is now full of bounce for which we should be grateful to God.
This is why I consider the rage against Mr. Buhari for not handing over to Osinbajo as baseless and ill-directed. What we should bother about is if Buhari used public means of transportation (Presidential jet) for his private visit. In this case he did. He used a Presidential jet to fly from Saudi Arabia to London. He ought not to. While on his private visit, he is still the president but he must ensure that he does not fund his private indulgence with public funds.
Prima facie, Buhari is not in breach of the constitution. So, crucify him not. He does not owe ‘handing over power’ to his deputy on the props of emotion. Those who have issues with his action should approach the court for adjudication and interpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law. Beyond that, let the President be.
What should engage Nigerians the most is the state of the nation and the health of our democracy. Democracy is not healthy in Nigeria. And it has nothing to do with the frequent travels of Buhari. Obasanjo never went on AWOL but he bickered rashly with Atiku and democracy and governance suffered. They were both at home, inside Aso Rock, fisting. Yar’adua until his ill-health was manacled inside the Villa with Jonathan but between them all the tenets of democracy suffered abrasion, and so did good governance. Jonathan and Sambo did not engage in frequent international nomadism but they offered little in terms of good governance.
A good leader can offer good governance not because he refused to travel overseas or on account of his frequent offshore sorties but because he has the capacity to lead and lead well. I stand with Buhari on not transmitting power to Osinbajo for as long as he did not infringe the law; but the same Buhari should strive to offer good governance. So far, he has not done so. Under him, the life of an average Nigerian has been devalued; economy is diminished and the polity is severely fractured, broken. He must arise and gather the bits and pieces of a gasping nation. The buck stops on Buhari’s table not on Osinbajo’s who himself has left much to the imagination in the manner he has handled certain assignments hitherto given to him. Enough said, please!